GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today. The conversation between Georgie Roxby Smith and Mathias Jansson took place in March 2013 via email.
GameScenes: Your MFA thesis, Art 2.0: Identity, Role Play and Performance in Virtual Worlds investigates the ontological and performative overlap between the real and the virtual. What did you discover at the end of your investigation?
"Georgie Roxby Smith is an Australian visual artist working across a range of disciplines exploring new pathways between virtual and physical worlds. Employing a variety of tools - including 3D graphics, live performance, shared virtual spaces, installation and projection - these works explore the increasingly blurred border between materiality, reality, virtuality and fantasy in contemporary culture. Georgie received a Bachelor of Media Arts from Deakin University in 2004. Her graduate studies include a Master of Fine Arts (by Research) with First Class Honours, Post Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts and Master of Visual Arts (by Coursework) from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne." (from the Artist's website)
Georgie Roxby Smith: Art 2.0 – Identity, Role Play and Performance in Virtual Worlds was a studio-based research project positioned within the virtual world of Second Life. Focusing on identity as a key provocation, the thesis explored new possibilities of virtual reality software in contemporary art through repositioning “in world” performances into physical installations to create mixed reality video and installations. My initial objectives were to question the idea of materiality through the creation of objects and situations of indistinct form and reality, to explore the position of audience by creating a space where viewers were in multiple realities at once and to break with traditional forms of visual arts practice (installation, new media art, video art and performance) by bringing them together in one "event". By extracting and re-injecting my Second Life avatar into physical space, the work existed on a kaleidoscope of planes: in world, within a body of physical sculptures, as ephemeral projections in space; and as recreated performances by both humans and avatars.
Georgie Roxby Smith, Reality Bytes, performance at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center, New York, 2010
My 2010 work Reality Bytes attempted to bring these multiple realities together by allowing gallery visitors to experience reality cross-overs in all elements of the installation – whether in objects within the room or the way they could access the work, through virtual reality, a physical reality or both simultaneously. The more I worked with Second Life, however, the more it became apparent that this work centred around identity. After two years of reworking, including a residency at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in New York, the work re-emerged as the defining piece of my thesis - Your Clothing is Still Downloading – a multi dimensional installation which included a live performance by real life and Second Life performers, pre-recorded machinima and video, a live video stream into Second Life, a virtual build of the gallery in Second Life and live projections within the gallery space. The work, which explores identity and desire - was accessible both in the gallery and via a Second Life portal and threw the audiences between both spaces in a perpetual loop. The technical demands of this work on the system often results in a major crash, negating the work in its process.
Georgie Roxby Smith, Your Clothing is Still Downloading, MFA Graduation Thesis, Victorian College of the Arts, 2011
Each of the main studio works in this research project – Reality Bytes, Byten I –III, Exquisite Corpse, iObject and the Jackson works teased out the nature of identity, role play, desire and death through performance, installation, machinima and virtual re-enactment. In the process of performing or displaying these works, the relationship of these new virtual worlds and mixed realities to an art audience was examined and refined. By commencing with the most complex work, Reality Bytes, I was able to test the limits of technology and audience comprehension and engagement and then work backwards to strip down the work to its key elements. The final work in the research project iObject removed the live element completely and explored my digital identity through the negation of self in a virtual world. By completely stripping my self-portrait avatar of all identifiable features and symbols of desire and ego, she was voided, and ultimately challenged the position of identity in this hyper real world. This deconstructed avatar staged a number of sit ins as a three dimensional shadow in the consumer, social and sexual constructions of Second Life – provoking reactions of scorn, threat and complete disregard by observing avatars. Sitting silently in her commodified surroundings, the death of her virtual ego and loss of virtual currency was underscored by the evocative sounds of a Buddhist chant – creating a blur between an act of holiness or menace. In a way, it was the myself as artist role playing myself into a ghost in the machine.
The work annulled the need for the audience’s knowledge of its medium (a common problem for SL artists) as the image of a shadow self within a rich virtual environment spoke clearly in its symbols across the void of the real and the virtual. Whilst works like iObject challenged the notion of digital identity, the multi-planed mixed reality performances challenge audiences further via their forced interaction across platforms and into worlds and screens that they may be unfamiliar with. Each time these mixed reality performances were undertaken in this project – the limitations of the system were tested to the extreme. Internet connection, computer graphic capabilities, institutional blocks on Second Life, multiple avatars in the space affecting rezzing and lag (transforming avatars into faceless jerking grey beings) – the act of the performance breaks the technology itself – hence negating not only the self and the avatar self but also the system we are channelling them through.
Second Life video with real life paparazzi footage, gold television,DVD player, life size dead Michael figure, MJ photos, bears, fake flowers, candles, fake Walk of Fame star
Georgie Roxby Smith: Uncomposed was one of my first works for a long period of time where I moved away from working with a live environment. The work was ‘composed’ of 3D animation, machinima, and found image mash ups (being the elements of the original master painting).
Georgie Roxby Smith, Uncomposed, 3D machinima, video, found image, found sound, 2012
Made specifically for a group show themed ‘Composite’, the work deconstructs Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, itself a composite, the landscape and sky being completed by Titian following Giogione’s death in 1510. The work was a landmark of its era, reflecting a new shift in modern art with the inclusion of a female nude at its centre. Employing three-dimensional computer graphics and elements of Giorgione’s original masterpiece, I replaced his stylised renaissance figure with a fantasised digital body transplanted into an augmented hyper real landscape. In the likeness of her present day artist, the 21st Century Venus will not lie still for her voyeurs, obstinately returning the male gaze from her new digital paradigm, the sleeping Venus awakes. The work also reflects the re-composition of all art works, and all art practices. Obviously, art has never existed in a bubble, as artists we are composites ourselves, of our forbearers, teachers and peers as well as the wealth of information that surrounds us in our everyday lives. In the digital age, of course, this influx of information is a thousand-fold. Where these composites are generally hidden, in Uncomposed they are very obviously exposed in their reassembly.GameScenes: Your machinima The Fall Girl shows a young girls in bikini falling down a steep cliff over and over again. It seems like cruel punishment taken from the Greek mythology. Can you explain what the video is about?
Georgie Roxby Smith: It’s well-documented that the sexualisation and objectification of women in video games is common place, as is the constant violence against her. Placed as prop, non player, damsel in distress or sub-hero, the female character is rarely a ‘player’ of any importance. Where female character heroes are in place, they are overtly sexualised, such as the hyper real soft pornography of Lara Croft’s female form. The male gaze manifests itself bi-fold in an immersive environment populated by young men invested in hours of play and character’s own digital peers.
Georgie Roxby Smith, The Fall Girl, Machinima, PS3 Skyrim, 2012
By removing the game play in between scenes, which when isolated are disturbing in their sharp focus, the viewer becomes critically aware of the hyper- representation of the character and the violence enacted against her. The protagonist is eternally and perpetually punished in an inescapable digital loop, which I first discovered as a never ending glitch in the game. By recreating the flaw and stripping the character to her default ‘nudity’ The Fall Girl becomes less unfeeling pixelated form and more vulnerable victim of her portrayed murder, accidental death or futile suicidal escape from her digital fate.
GameScenes: What kind of games and consoles do you like to work with most and why?
Georgie Roxby Smith: My work on Second Life was obviously predominantly PC based. Whilst I have more recently moved towards the PS3 for entertainment, I am realising its limitations when looking to mod or capture scenes so am currently in the process of transferring all of my gaming practice across to a desktop computer.
When using the PC with Second Life I was particularly interested in the way the physical body related to the on screen action. Initially, moving my virtual body through this digital environment had a strange and unexpected physical effect. Immersing myself in the screen by day, each I night I dreamt in a “Second Life” world – trees, people and buildings streaming past me in a nauseous wave of giddy intoxication. When objects or other avatars made digital contact with me, I noted an odd physical reaction in my own body. I was quick to discover there was a “gut reaction ….a reality in virtual reality” as Lichty said in Hammering the Void. The brain seemed somewhat confused between these two physical planes.
For me, the PS3 does not relay this effect –whether it’s because of the proximity of the screen or the physical connection of the hands to the keyboard, the PC tends to give me a more direct access connection to my character and the world she inhabits.
GameScenes: What is your personal relationship with video games? Why are you interested in using video games in your art practice?
Georgie Roxby Smith: As a child in the 80’s I was an avid PC gamer – immersing myself in games such as SimCity and the very adult Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Revisiting the game recently I was interested to see the suicide of Larry, which is a theme that permeates in some of my Second Life work, The Fall Girl and my current work in progress Happy Endgame. Death in virtual worlds seems to be a constant provocation. Despite the word game being irrevocably linked with play, fun and light-heartedness, first person shooters have a dark edge of violence and masochism and our virtual counterparts live on regardless of our own physical deaths.
In my ongoing exploration of digital identity and desire, I began imagining the online virtual world of Second Life and the people who utilise the technology as being in some kind of perpetual movement away from death: a denial as such. In virtual worlds there is no ageing, no rotting of the flesh. Secondarily there exists an eternal life in these new technologies – from forever live Facebook memorials frozen in time, virtual gravesites, dead celebrity avatars and the pun of the Second Life’s program name itself. Despite this, every time I log out of a virtual world my avatar dies – a dissolution of pixels disappearing into the black – only to be reborn, unchanged, at the click of a button. These notions inspired my work exquisite corpse dead daddy, shown most recently at James Makin Gallery in Melbourne, which merges rephotographed family snapshots and machinima of a virtual avatar intimately built in my dead father’s image. This 21st Century ‘exquisite corpse’ explores death, memory, loss and the materiality of the body whilst it’s flickering images, a digital Dadaism, reflect the processes of the human memory playing out emotions of grief and yearning.
Georgie Roxby Smith, Exquisite Corpse Dead Daddy, 2011
Ironically it was my childhood history with SimCity that propelled my art practice into the game world. I was working with sculptural objects exploring the matrix and the global city and was online researching digital worlds when I stumbled across Sim City and Second Life - nostalgia, curiosity, then critical interest crept in, and my path was redefined! It is a discovery that I find increasingly engaging. As the new cinema and a phenomena of pop culture, games reflect and shape our society and in particular, our young people’s desires and interest. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with games and exploring how our own identities merge and fluctuate in virtual worlds…next on the list the new Tomb Raider, a female protagonist, a female writer, and some horrifically realistic death scenes! Stay tuned!
LINK: Georgie Roxby Smith
Text: Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images and videos courtesy of the artist